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Legislators, citizens discuss two bills on firearms

by TIMOTHY FAIRBANKS-CLOUSER, Herald Legislative Writer
| January 18, 2022 1:05 AM

Two controversial bills, which could prohibit assault rifles and allow local governments to restrict open-carry of firearms, passed through the Washington State Senate Law & Justice Committee on Monday.

Senate Bill 5217 concerns the definition of assault rifles and prohibits a list of 62 firearms or copycat weapons.

The bill “prohibits the manufacture, possession, distribution, importation, transfer, sale, offer for sale, and purchase of any assault weapon,” according to a senate bill report. Violations of the bill would result in a Class C felony, it stated.

Assault weapons are typically the weapon of choice for mass shootings and contribute more damage to the human body at a higher rate, said Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue. Since 2009, there have been 267 mass shootings in the U.S., which killed 1,499 people, she said.

Only specific individuals would be permitted to own an assault weapon, mainly law enforcement, the military, and citizens who purchased the gun before the bill’s effective date.

People who legally possess a weapon on the list of 62 firearms may only use it while hunting or at a licensed firing range. The gun must be unloaded while transporting to and from the gun owner’s property. Inoperable antique firearms are not included on the list.

Owners would have to register the assault weapon with the Washington State Patrol.

Concerned citizen Jim Parsons lost his daughter in the Las Vegas mass shooting a few years ago. He said he feels failed by legislators as more shootings have occurred and no legislation has restricted the possession of this weapon of choice.

He testified in support of the bill in an effort to protect anyone else from the pain of losing a child.

Washington resident Kathleen Gilligan opposes SB 5217. She said just last week, a man was banging on her door and she feared he would break in; what relieved her was the thought her firearm was available, if needed.

Society is seeing a surge in firearm sales from minorities, said citizen Nathan Tynes. He questioned why the legislation is now being considered. From his military experience in the Middle East, he said armed minorities are not very easy to oppress.

Another bill pushed by Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, could put the decision of banning the open carry of weapons in the hands of local governments.

She said local officials throughout the state expressed fear after seeing firearms in meetings in times of recent tension. Her bill would allow local governments to decide for their respective jurisdictions.

Senate Bill 5568 would allow local governments to enact laws and ordinances restricting the open carry of weapons at any public meeting, building or facility owned by that local authority. The bill’s language includes demonstrations within the jurisdictions of the local authorities.

A few people testified in support of the bill, citing concerns of armed intimidation after events in recent years.

Dan Hammill, a Bellingham City Council member, attended one meeting which ended with members hiding from an armed group. He said it was a terrifying moment no one should have to experience. The armed group had thought their Second Amendment right was being taken after a lie had circulated, he said.

The bill garnered much displeasure, though, from other people. Some testifiers said the bill might create a legal minefield for gun owners navigating the state.

On the surface, it seems the bill only limits open carry at public events. However, it creates an opportunity for 281 cities and towns to make their own laws restricting citizens’ gun rights, said Jeremy Ball, Spokane’s Sharp Shooting Indoor Range & Gun Shop owner.

Gun owners only need to know the federal and state gun laws; SB 5568 only makes things more complex, he said. Owners likely would not know the open carry laws for each area, leading to unintended consequences because of the legislation, he added.

Other people said it could put minorities and disadvantaged people living in dangerous areas at risk by limiting their ability to protect themselves.

Self-defense is our human right; SB 5568 is another erosion against that right, said Sharyn Hinchcliffe, of the Pink Pistols in the Seattle area. Public meetings are a historical setting for violent attacks; this bill only disarms citizens and fuels intimidation from armed law enforcement, she said.

“We are not scared to walk into a room where people might be armed,” she said. “We are worried about walking into an arena where everyone might be armed but us.”

Executive sessions for both bills are scheduled for 10:30 a.m. on Thursday.